Polling questions and British attitudes to burqa / burkini bans
Categories: Latest News
Thursday September 01 2016
The polling company has published the results of a poll asking the public two questions about the recent burkini bans imposed on some beaches in France and the related issue of a ban on wearing the burqa in public places which is enforced in France, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
The results are broken down by how respondents voted in the 2015 general election, whether respondents voted Remain or Leave in the EU referendum, by age group, by gender, by social grade and by region of the UK where the respondent lives.
Of the 1668 people surveyed, 807 male and 861 female, 57% said they supported “a law that bans people from wearing the burka in the UK” and 46% said they supported “a law that bans people from wearing the burkini in public in the UK”.
Those opposed to such laws were 25% (burqa) and 30% (burkini) respectively.
The responses show little variation to the results from a poll in November 2012 when 60% of people supported a ban on the burqa and 23% opposed it. There is no comparison on the question about the burkini, showing that the issue is more recently contentious.
The results are not too surprising in relation to voting behaviour in the 2015 general election with 84% of UKIP voters saying they would support “a law that bans people from wearing the burka in the UK.”
66% of Conservatives say they would support a ban, 48% of Labour voters and 42% of Liberal Democrats.
The response of Labour and Liberal Democrats is particularly surprising given one’s heritage of championing equality and the others commitment to civil liberties.
Breakdown by age group shows those aged 65+ to be most in favour of a ban (78%) and those aged 18-24 least in favour (34%).
On leanings on the EU referendum, 78% of those who voted Leave support a ban compared to 40% of those who voted Remain.
Interestingly, by region, London does not emerge as the liberal city it is claimed to be with over half (51%) of Londoners supporting a ban, marginally fewer than in Scotland (52%) and the Midlands/Wales (54%). The rest of the south and the north of England shows highest level of support for a ban with 59% and 63% respectively.
On the question about whether individuals supported a law that bans people from wearing the burkini in public in the UK, 72% of UKIP voters were in favour of such a law with 55% of Conservatives, 37% of Labour and 31% of Liberal Democrat voters saying the same.
Again, older people were more like to support a law that bans the burkini with 63% of people aged 65+ saying so while 26% of those aged 18-24 said the same.
The results are fascinating for two particular reasons. Firstly, the fact that over half of people, in the case of the burqa, and almost half, in the case of the burkini, support a law banning these garments suggests that arguments defending a woman’s right to choose how to dress are losing currency.
It further suggests that a defence of a woman’s right to choose as a reflection of British values of liberty and tolerance are not heeded by some sections of society who consider the issue a matter for Government, in the manner of passing a law, rather than being a matter of individual choice over which the state has no business interfering.
Secondly, and related to the first, is the framing of the question by YouGov itself.
The questions put to the public were framed as follows:
“The burka is a loose item of clothing worn by women in some Islamic traditions for the purpose of hiding a female’s body and face when out in public. Some countries, such as France, have banned people from wearing the burka in public. To what extent would you support or oppose a law that bans people from wearing the burka in the UK?”
“A Burkini is a type of swimsuit that is sometimes worn by women in some Islamic traditions for the purpose of hiding a female’s body and face when swimming in public. Some countries, such as France, have banned people from wearing the burkini in public. To what extent would you support or oppose a law that bans people from wearing the burkini in public in the UK?
Looking at the questions it is perhaps not surprising that the responses are what they are.
Consider that YouGov have framed the issue of wearing a burqa or a burkini as having the singular purpose of “hiding a female’s body and face”.
It is fair to say that the burqa has the effect of “hiding a female’s body and face” but it is certainly not the “purpose” for which the garment is worn by some Muslim women.
Nor is the burkini worn for the purpose of “hiding a female’s body and face when swimming in public”. In fact, anyone who has seen a woman in a burkini, and with the news headlines over the banning of the burkini in places like Nice it is difficult to have missed it, would know that the face is not hidden at all.
More importantly, the “purpose” of the burkini, as with the burqa, is not to “hide” the female body but to allow those Muslim who wear it the freedom to observe modesty in dress as practiced in Islam.
How a question is framed will invariably determine the response solicited and in asking the British public whether they would support a ban on garments that “hide the female body” is very likely to attract rejection.
YouGov’s poll reveals fascinating truths about the way in which attitudes about matters pertaining to Muslims are derived and how Islamic practices and beliefs are themselves constructed.
Positing the purpose of the burqa and the burkini as “hiding” a Muslim female’s body and face is a classic trope drawn from colonial discourses about “liberating” Muslim women from patriarchal cultures and archaic religious traditions. By neglecting the agency of Muslim women who choose to wear the burqa and burkini as expressions of modesty, not concealment, YouGov have reinforced such colonial constructions.
It is fair to ask what a poll which framed these questions more openly, recognising the purpose of the burqa and burkini as expressions of modesty and religious observance, would reveal by way of results. Perhaps YouGov will run another survey?